US-led coalition must prove it really wants to separate Al-Nusra Front from rebels – Lavrov
Russia will “no longer take seriously" requests that its own or Syrian forces make unilateral concessions regarding the ceasefire, without the Western coalition providing proof it's trying to separate moderates from terrorists, the foreign minister said.
In an extensive interview with Russia TV’s Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday), Sergey Lavrov reiterated that “the revival of the ceasefire is possible exclusively on collective basis.” If the US and its coalition partners fail to provide credible proof that they have “a sincere intention” to dissociate terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition “our suspicions that this all is being done to take the heat off Al-Nusra Front will strengthen.”
The events of the past few days, however, showed the reverse trend, as more rebel groups started merging with Al-Nusra Front, Lavrov said, citing a statement from Russia’s General Staff.
One of such radical groups close to Al-Nusra Front is Ahrar Al-Sham, which refused to adhere to the Russia-US agreement as the deal targets its ally, Lavrov said. Russia has been demanding it be designated terrorist for a long time, to little effect.
“If everything again boils down to asking Russia’s and Syria’s Air Forces to take unilateral steps – such as, ‘Give us another three- or four-day pause and after that we will persuade all opposition groups that this is serious and that they must cut ties with Al-Nusra Front’ - such talk will not be taken seriously by us anymore," the Russian FM said.
He noted that previous US-Russia-brokered short-term ceasefires around Aleppo did not live up to expectations and proved detrimental to peace efforts, as the 48-hour and 72-hour temporary truces were “used to back up the jihadists, including, Al-Nusra Front fighters, with manpower, food and weapons supplies.”
For its part, Russia has been open about its work with the Syrian government to ensure its compliance with the US-Russia brokered Geneva deal.
On Monday, it submitted an interview with Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the main operations department of the Russian General Staff, to the UN Security Council, in which he outlines the concrete measures Russia made to secure the deal, Lavrov noted.
Speaking about the US airstrike on Syrian armed forces near Deir ez-Zor, that left 62 troops dead and over 100 injured, Lavrov cast doubt on Washington’s assurance that the Syrian government positions were targeted purely by mistake.
It is “very hard to believe that reconnaissance officers of the US-founded coalition that is fighting Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS] on the whole Syrian territory could forget about who is located where,” he said.
“The situation in Deir ez-Zor, contrary to the situation in Aleppo, where the line of contact is constantly changing, has been stable over two years already. The Syrian troops have been besieged by IS there,” he added, calling the circumstances surrounding the attack “a bit strange.”
Lavrov also confirmed that Washington offered its apologies to Syria’s President Bashar Assad via Russia.
The Russian FM has once again denied Russia or Syria’s complicity in the attack on UN-backed Red Crescent convoy in eastern Aleppo on Monday.
Russia had already submitted drone footage and other evidence to the UN as part of the investigation into the incident that resulted in death of 20 civilians and one aid worker.
“Russian aviation was not working there. Syrian aviation could not work there either, as the attack on the convoy occurred at night, and the Syrian Air Force does not fly at that time, they do not have such capacities,” Lavrov stated, citing the Russian Defense Ministry’s statements.
The “easiest way” and “the first necessary step” to determine who is responsible for the atrocity would be to uncover weapons that hit the convoy and present them, he suggested.
At the same time, Lavrov recalled the repeated “direct, open and unambiguous” threats to humanitarian convoys from rebels maintaining control over the Castello road that have on many occasions impeded essential supplies accessing heavily stricken areas of Aleppo.